It is helpful to discover that the child who seems irrationally scared of dogs was once bitten by a snarling mongrel. Knowing that Moslem forces were defeated when their siege of Vienna was repulsed on September 11th, 1683, helps make sense of their September 11, 2001 attack on the United States. The past should not provide an excuse but it does provide insight.
After inconceivably vast numbers of casualties, Europe’s first Thirty Years War (1618—1648) ended with the Peace of Westphalia, the foundation of a fierce and formidable nation, Germany. After even more unimaginable horror, Europe’s second Thirty Years War (1914—1945) ended with a remarkable and enduring peace.
Along with many knowledgeable professional historians, I view World War Two (1939-1945) not as a stand-alone event, but as the continuation of World War One. Presciently, the great French military leader Marshal Ferdinand Foch who was present at the signing of the peace Treaty of Versailles, called it not a peace but a temporary twenty year cease-fire. World War Two broke out twenty years and two months later.
That 20th century Thirty Years War, which included the utter destruction of thousands of European Jewish communities, was launched when Germany declared war on Russia on August 1st, 1914. Till then, the year 1914 had its typical share of regional conflicts with pompous politicians and aristocrats posturing for prestige. As in the first Thirty Years War, Germany’s war making ability changed everything. That date on which worldwide conflict became inevitable, August 1st 1914, corresponded on the Hebrew calendar, to the 9th day of Av, in the year 5674.
That adds one more tragic event to the long and lamentable catalog of crime committed against the Jewish people on that particular date of the Jewish calendar. Instead of a random distribution throughout the 12 months of the year, as you’d expect any nation’s disasters to occur, virtually all of Israel’s calamities have happened on or within a few days of the ninth of Av. These include England expelling all its Jews in 1290, France doing the same in 1306, and Spain expelling its Jews in 1492. The Nazi’s “Final Solution” to the Jewish problem was officially implemented on this day in 1941. And so it goes, defying statistical odds for over two thousand years.
That date’s link to destiny began soon after the Exodus from Egypt. In preparation for their assault on the Promised Land, Israel dispatched spies to obtain military intelligence on the challenge that lay ahead. The spies returned with a dispiriting report of defensive fortifications and fierce occupants. Instead of trusting in God, the people became unnerved and demoralized. They wept.
The entire people raised their voices and cried out,
and the people wept on that night.
Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that this night was indeed the 9th of Av and it was set aside for Jewish tragedies for all generations.
There is a street in South Tel Aviv called “The 93 Street”. It is named after 92 young Jewish girls and their teacher who lived and died in Poland during World War II. Here is what the New York Times wrote:
“Ninety-three Jewish girls and young Jewish women, the pupils and the teacher of a Beth Jacob School of Warsaw, Poland, chose mass suicide to escape being forced into prostitution by German soldiers, according to a letter from the teacher made public yesterday by Rabbi Leo Jung of the Jewish Center of New York City.
Declaring ‘it is good to live for God but it is also good to die for Him,’ the writer said, ‘All of us have poison. When the soldiers come we shall drink it. We have no fear.’
The letter, dated, August 11, 1942 [a few days after the ninth of Av] was received Tuesday by an official of the American Beth Jacob Committee, 131 W Eighty Sixth Street.
In part it read, ‘..When this letter will come into your hands, I shall not live anymore…we were given hot baths and were told that German soldiers would come tonight to visit us. We yesterday swore to ourselves that we shall die together…The Germans do not know that our last bath was our purification before death….Say Kaddish [the Jewish prayer for the dead] for us, your 93 children. Soon we shall be with Mother Sarah.”
Recent scholarship has cast doubts upon whether this event happened exactly as described. But that is of little account since the number of similar acts of horrible brutality that are fully documented is so vast as to be mind-numbingly incomprehensible.
So, if we Jews, both in Israel and in the diaspora find ourselves approaching the 9th of Av, starting tonight, Monday night July 31, 2017, with trepidation and even a little fear, there is good reason. After all, the unfolding of history didn’t end with World War II.
Moslem terrorists killed nearly 100 Jews and injured hundreds of others on the 9th of Av 1994 when they destroyed the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires with a massive bomb. In a traumatic episode of Jew against Jew, Israeli soldiers forcibly carried Jews out of their homes in Gush Katif, Gaza, as this day ended in 2005, after the then Israeli government decided that returning all of Gaza to the Arabs would bring peace. And so it goes…defying statistical odds.
What lies ahead? Nobody knows, but Jews everywhere will heave a sigh of relief as the stars come out this Tuesday evening.